I think it’s time to ditch the discourse about just how difficult it is to write. It doesn’t serve us well, and it just gives academics something else to complain about.
I know those memes about the difficulty of writing are writers’ attempts to laugh at themselves; and, there’s nothing wrong with that. We can all laugh along with the writer who’s spent an entire morning producing a near-blank page. Sometimes that happens, and it’s healthy to be able to laugh about it. But, repeating the mantra about the difficulty of writing, over and over and over again as academics so often do, isn’t healthy. Writing is not the most difficult part of my job. That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy, or that it’s not sometimes frustrating, but it rarely ever feels excruciating.
This discourse doesn’t serve our students well.
It’s a poor approach to teaching writing. It’s also an ineffective way to help students to enjoy writing and become better writers. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that some students may learn to dislike what is supposed to be difficult for them. Students will learn that writing is something that is to be endured (somewhat painfully) as a part of their temporary status as university students – like the parking lottery, library fines, and being known by a nine digit identity marker. If we don’t give ourselves permission to see writing as a pleasurable activity at least some of the time, then it’s unlikely our students will learn to see it that way either.
By repeating this discourse, we’re teaching our students to underestimate their own writing potential and abilities, and we’re closing off a valuable avenue of expression to them. We’re also devaluing the supports that we’ve built to encourage them – like writing centres.
This discourse doesn’t serve professors well either.
The discourse of difficulty leads some early career researchers to avoid writing, or, at least to delay its inclusion among their academic responsibilities. This is often to their detriment. A lack of scholarly publications is likely to lead to hurtful assessments by colleagues, whose membership on tenure and promotion committees will almost certainly demonstrate their adeptness at counting.
There might be additional punitive measures for faculty members’ adherence to the discourse of difficulty, including increased teaching loads, denied merit pay, and/or departmental and administrative disfavour. All of these are likely to have negative effects on self-worth, job satisfaction, and career advancement and promotion.
Professors who choose not to confront and challenge the discourse of difficulty are likely to continue to feel its consequences long after their ‘early career’ phase has ended. They’ll quickly discover that they can travel around the globe delivering twenty minute papers at academic conferences and chairing panels about administrative decision-making, can build social networks, and be the person who everyone wants to have a drink with at the conference bar. But, like it or not, those who get to be part of the conversations in academia, and whose ideas get noticed are those whose words actually make it into print.
Challenging this discourse, like other difficult parts of our workplace takes time and perseverance. It also takes practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice.
The next academic myth to tackle? Perhaps the claim that no one reads what academics write.